Privately owned daily newspapers hit Myanmar’s streets for the first time in decades on Monday under new freedoms that represent a revolution for a media shackled under military rule.
Four Burmese-language titles — The Voice, The Golden Fresh Land, The Union and The Standard Time — made the transition from weekly as new rules came into effect that swept away state media’s long monopoly on daily printing.
“We prepared for about six months to become a daily newspaper. We wanted to be part of this historical milestone,” Aung Soe, an editor of The Voice, told AFP.
News stands in Yangon reported an early morning rush by readers eager to witness the latest sweeping change in the country also known as Burma.
“The Voice daily sold out soon after it arrived even though I ordered double the amount than other newspapers. People are keen to read private daily newspapers for the first time,” said newspaper seller Phyu Phyu.
Myanmar’s public has become accustomed to an increasingly boisterous media since the country’s quasi-civilian government relaxed its grip on the press after coming to power in 2011.
The country’s military rulers seized control of private daily papers in 1964, according to veteran journalist Thiha Saw of Open News weekly.
Under junta rule, even an implied mention of the democracy movement and its figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi could have landed reporters in prison, but the Nobel laureate is now in parliament and regularly appears in the papers.
Draconian pre-publication censorship was officially scrapped in August, but private weeklies had already started pushing the boundaries of their freedom with reports on sensitive issues and news updates posted daily on social media.
A total of 16 weekly news journals were allowed to become dailies under the new rules, including Suu Kyi’s party paper, but logistical challenges mean some were not able to make the move immediately.
Among the front pages of the new dailies on Monday, the fragrantly titled Golden Fresh Land — also a sell-out at many news stands — covered an upcoming Suu Kyi trip to Japan and President Thein Sein’s address to the nation about recent Buddhist-Muslim unrest.
The Union, which is close to the ruling party, focused on news from the capital Naypyidaw.
The Voice printed an update on the situation in western Rakhine state — the scene of deadly communal strife last year — and a report on a weekend concert by Danish band Michael Learns to Rock in Yangon.
Myanmar jumped to 151st out of 179 in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index because of “dramatic changes” that included scrapping its harsh pre-publication scrutiny regime — until last year imposed on everything from newspapers to fairytales.
Observers hope that a new media law being drafted by an interim press council will define the limits of press freedoms and replace harsh junta-imposed legislation.
But reform has been mired in controversy in recent weeks, after authorities revealed they had written their own proposal, stoking fears that government is unwilling to fully relinquish control of the press.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]